(Back to index)

Worship of the United States constitution

There is a rather peculiar phenomenon in the United States of America with regards to their constitution. The constitution seems to be considered some kind of Holy Scripture which is immutable and cannot be changed, ever. Not even a single word, letter, punctuation or even original smudge can be changed. Ever. The constitution can only be amended, but existing text is so supremely holy that it's absolutely and completely untouchable. Even the idea of actually changing the existing constitution text seems sacrilegious.

As a perfect example of this, there's a small smudge of ink in the original text, in the fifth amendment, and there has been a lot of discussion about whether this is a comma or just a meaningless smudge. (If it's a comma, the sentence could be interpreted slightly differently than if it isn't.)

This just goes to show how Holy the original constitution text is considered. Not even a single smudge, which was probably just accidental, can be changed from this Holy Scripture. Doing so would probably be tantamount to blasphemy. Even the Bible itself is not considered so Holy and immutable as the United States Constitution.

Where does this concept of the constitution being perfect and immutable come from? It's a really ridiculous idea.

The United States Constitution was adopted in 1787. The world was very different back then than it is now. The authors could have not predicted how the world would change in 200 years. They wrote the text of the constitution with the knowledge of 1787. Society, politics and technology has advanced in the last 200 years, and the basic fundamentals of a free society should adapt to these changes. Considering a 200-years-old text as perfect and infallible is only asking for trouble.

This attitude causes lots and lots of fighting in the United States over how the wording of the constitution should be interpreted, and what the original intention of the people who wrote it was. Just the two first amendments are an endless source of heated discussion.

For example, the meaning of the first amendment is constantly being challenged and discussed to death. Nitpickers (usually those who want to advance a Christian theocracy) will cling to the wording of the first amendment and interpret it very literally (for example to argue that while it prohibits the congress from establishing religions, it doesn't prohibit the congress from supporting already established ones) while others will argue that it's the spirit of the text that is important (in other words, that the government should be kept completely separate from religion).

Or take the second amendment, for example. Many people in the United States seem to consider the second amendment to be even holier than the first one. Since it was written by the Founding Fathers, this law is henceforth set in stone, is infallible, and cannot be changed ever, not in a million years.

Consider, however, what was the technological background in the time when the second amendment was written, in other words, the military technology of 1787. The most common handgun was a muzzle-loaded flintlock-based musket, which was highly inaccurate and extremely slow to load. Percussion caps (which increased the accuracy of the weapon) were not invented until around 1830, and the first fully self-contained breech-loaded cartridges were not invented until about 1808 (and became common only decades later). Modern-style revolvers did not become widespread until Samuel Colt patented a revolver mechanism in 1836 that led to its widespread use.

That was the historical background of the second amendment. Back in 1787 you could probably do more damage with a sword than with a handgun.

Yet today people in the United States are using the second amendment to justify their right to own and use fully automatic rapid-fire weapons such as the M16 rifle or the Browning M2 machine gun. Yeah, like that was exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the second amendment.

As far as I know, the United States is rather unique in their attitude towards their constitution. All other constitutional countries I know of have no such reservations, and will change their constitution to adapt to changing national and international situations, and advancing technology and progress. For example the constitution of Finland was last changed (slightly) in 2007. (It's not like it's easy to change the constitution. Of course it requires the approval of the relevant committees and something like 70% majority vote in the parliament. However, changing the constitution is not considered unthinkable, and it has been done several times.)

I really think this attitude is detrimental. I don't want to offend, but the Founding Fathers of the United States of America were not gods, they were fallible humans, and they wrote the constitution over 200 years ago. It's simply silly to consider the text of the constitution so holy that even punctuation errors cannot be corrected.

(Back to index)